President Jackson Responds to Nullification

This crisis was the passage of the Nullification Ordinances by the South Carolina State Assembly in November of 1832. The unity and survival of the nation depended upon President Jackson's response. On December 10, 1832, President Jackson presented his response to the Congress, arguing that the justification for state nullification of federal laws was misguided, unconstitutional, and treasonous to the country.

Jackson began his proclamation by outlining the reasons and reservations that led South Carolina to pass the ordinance; their major concerns were the tariffs of 1828 and 1832. South Carolina believed these measures were unfair and didn't fall within the constitutional power of Congress to raise revenue; they proclaimed the laws null and void and threatened succession. In his address, Jackson showed that the doctrine of nullification was "incompatible with the existence of the Union…” He argued that South Carolina's objections based on stated powers and fairness were misguided and incorrect because the Constitution gave Congress the "discretionary power" to raise revenue by taxation. Next, Jackson argued the Constitution joined the states into a single nation, and "in becoming parts of a nation...they surrender many of their essential parts of sovereignty." Thus, secession was wholly unconstitutional. Finally, Jackson warned the people of South Carolina, that any action of "disunion, by force, is treason." His address ends with a hope that the nation will survive and be reconciled by reasonableness and harmony, but also an assurance that it will be reconciled by force, if necessary.

President's Jackson's speech came at a crucial time during his presidency; he had just been elected to a second term, but already his popular and political support was flagging. According to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Jackson's handling of the nullification crisis and his resolve to ensure the survival of the union, gained him temporary "popular acclaim,” making him the "country's hero."

Source: President Jackson Responds to Nullification
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